When my parents’ apricot tree is heavy with its full glory of fruit, it is a feast for all, including the squirrels. My parents’ apricots are small and round, and almost dark orange in color. They burst with juice with every bite. I am quite fond of apricots and try to indulge in them as often as possible. The only problem is when they come, you have to eat them fast (or at least as fast as the squirrels).
This year, with all our summer travels, we didn’t have nearly as much time to spend lounging around my parents’ backyard. So my mom and dad brought us a bounty of fruit — an overflowing basket — that we had to consume as fast as possible. I couldn’t bear to waste a single one so I grabbed the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook off my bookshelf, bookmarked a recipe for apricot jam and set off to collect jars and tongs.
As someone who is still relatively new to canning (I made my first jam last summer) I tend to trust the pros when it comes to technique. Blue Chair (besides being a fabulous local jam company) is also clearly a labor of love for the company’s founder, Rachel Saunders. The amount and variety of jam recipes in the book is encyclopedic. But, I find Rachel’s straightforward instructions and beautiful photos to be a welcome treat in the kitchen. Making jam is a process and one that begs to be done on a leisurely afternoon. You’ll freeze spoons, you’ll stir in sugar, you’ll scoop jam, you’ll watch the jam roll down the spoon to test if it’s ready, and you’ll eventually end up with jars and jars of delicious jam that you can eat any time of year. Can I just tell you how wonderful it feels to eat homemade jam made of summer fruits in the dead of winter? It is like enjoying a moment frozen in time.
I know that apricots are on their way out, but if you can manage to catch them before they’re completely gone, I would highly recommend making this jam.
Apricot and Vanilla Bean Jam
adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook
*makes approximately 8-9 eight ounce jars of jam
Note: I tweaked the original recipe a bit, choosing to not mash half of my apricots but rather keep them whole. I also chose to add more vs. less pits (I find the almond-y flavor to be intoxicating).
6 pounds of pitted and halved apricots, 5-10 pits reserved
2 1/2 pounds of white sugar
2 1/2 ounces of fresh squeezed lemon juice, strained
1 vanilla bean, split
1. The day before you make your jam, divide the apricots, sugar and lemon juice between two containers. Gently stir, then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the surface of the fruit. Seal the containers with lids and refrigerate overnight. Place the pits in a separate container and refrigerate.
3. The next day, put 5 small metal teaspoons on a plate and set it in the freezer. Take the apricot pits out of the freezer and place them between two towels. Use a meat tenderizer or hammer to crack the pits. Remove the almond-like kernels and toss the shells. Chop the kernels and put them into a stainless steel tea infuser (preferably with a handle). If your tea infuser doesn’t have a firm latch, I recommend first tying the chopped pits up in a few pieces of cheese cloth, so they don’t end up floating into your jam. Sterilize your jars (I describe my preferred technique here). You can sterilize your jars while you’re making the jam to save time.
4. Transfer the macerated apricots to a large, non-reactive pot. Add the tea infuser, pushing it down into the apricots. Stir in the vanilla bean.
5. Heat the mixture over high heat until it begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring for four minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and skim off any foam that develops.
6. Return the pot to the heat and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes. Dial down the heat if the jam starts to stick or burn. Use a heatproof rubber spatular to slowly stir the jam as it cooks, particularly in the last 10 – 15 minutes of cooking.
7. Start testing the jam to see if it’s done: remove one of your teaspoons from the freezer, scoop up bit of jam and place the spoon back in the freezer for 4 minutes. Remove the spoon from the freezer and touch the underside with your finger. The underside of the spoon should feel neither warm nor cold. If the spoon feels warm, briefly put it back in the freezer. Hold the spoon vertically. If the jam runs quickly, it’s not ready. Continue cooking it for another few minutes, then repeat the test with another spoon. Continue testing until the jam runs very slowly when the spoon is held vertically. Remove the tea infuser and vanilla bean from the pot, skim off any foam from the surface (but don’t stir!) and pour the jam into your sterilized jars. Process accordingly.
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